Accessiblity, Playability, and World Integrity

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I've noticed a paradigm shift at Turbine lately. Okay, perhaps that's a bit melodramatic, but there does seem to be a new focus when it comes to the development of new content.

One of the key goals to ensure the initial success of Lord of the Rings Online was selling it to the built-in Tolkien audience. I've come across numerous people who started playing this game simply because it was out of Tolkien's world. I am one of them. It's my first MMO because I love the IP. People like us had to believe that Turbine was committed to upholding the lore of their beloved literary work. And by and large I think Turbine did just that. So much developer time and communication was spent on assuring and proving that they held the lore up high just like the fans that it seemed an all consuming mission - the first priority.

Alas, that was an unrealistic ideal. LOTRO is a game, and a such the first priority is making it a good game, regardless of the lore or IP or whatever. We started seeing that more and more clearly post Mines of Moria release. More dev communication has been devoted to the gamey aspects of LOTRO, rather than the lore. The lore junkies have been sold, many of us have life time subscriptions, but now the goal is to expand the audience. Hook the gamers and people who aren't necessarily fans of Middle-Earth, but just want a good game. In essence, Turbine is on a quest to make their game more playable. Why is the Rune-Keeper in the game? Because it offers greater variety to the class play styles, even though it butts up against the lore line. Why did the newbie areas get a revamp? Because Turbine wants to attract new players and make the game accessible, make the game playable. It's not that LOTRO wasn't these things in the past, but like I said at the beginning of this post, Turbine is shifting gears. We've gone through 1st which was beta, we went through second, which was Shadows of Angmar, now we're really getting moving with 3rd. There's a big difference between 3rd gear and 1st gear. Even 2nd is not the same.

So how does this refocusing of attention affect the world we've come to know and love? This is where I want to bring in world integrity. Focusing on the lore side of things so much for the first act built an idea of what kind of integrity we'd see with this game. The Shire is a perfect example of the meticulous attention the developers paid to getting the lore side of things right. I imagine that such attention required a great deal of time to get right. Now more time is being spent on the game side of things, like getting the raids working properly, or the instances, or making the gameplay more accessible. That time has to come from somewhere. It's logical that Turbine has shifted that from the lore focus. Now, don't read me wrong here. I'm not saying they've abandoned holding to the lore. If Lothlorien is any example, they're still very much attuned to it. I'm just saying that it hasn't been a primary focus lately. I think that one has to be careful here. Not just with the lore, but all the other early ideas come into play as well. The early ideas are what made this game what it is. The later ideas grow it, but not everything needs to be tweaked and changed.

Myself not being in the loop, knowing exactly what's going on, gives me little room to make judgements. I just advice caution. Some of us early lore-centric players seem to be feeling a bit like the game has lost it's main reason for existence - building a virtual Middle-Earth. Then again, was that really the goal from the beginning. We're we just sold that goal because that's what would make the game successful? I don't think I bought a lie. Turbine has done a great job with the integrity of the world. Like I said, caution is merited as we move into the futre. Let's not forget how dear the IP is to many of us. Just because I have a lifetime subscription doesn't mean I'll play for the lifetime of the game. Sure, you got my money and I give you little more except for the retail expansions, but I'd like to continue playing. I won't if you drop the ball.

2 Responses to "Accessiblity, Playability, and World Integrity"

unwize Says:

I think many people are just feeling a little claustrophobic at the moment. Moria isn't the kind of place that's pleasant to hang around in, and Lothlorien is lacking in adventuring content.

When we expand into Mirkwood and then further south with the expansion, I imagine there'll be plenty of treats served up for the lore enthusiasts.

Westnovote Says:

Agree that the game comes first and the lore follows behind. Not a problem for me, Middle-Earth is found on my bookshelf, not in the game.
And like the previous commenter said, there is a hell of a lot still to come. (Argonath......eek!).